The following is the abstract for my forthcoming presentation to the 2013 Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference in Chicago this March. The panel is sponsored by the Urban Studies Caucus.
When a woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window discovers that her dog has been murdered, she cries out to the rest of the people in the apartment courtyard she shares with L.B. Jeffries: “You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘neighbor’. Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies! But none of you do!” The film’s set, too, lends credence to this perspective. Each character, or set of characters, is contained within their apartment windows, isolated from the world and from one another..It is interesting, then, that one of the most important and influential voices in the realm of urban design and civic planning was living and writing in the very same 1950s Greenwich Village neighborhood that Rear Window specifically takes as its setting. When Robert Moses sought to drive massive high-speed highways through the Village, Jane Jacobs organized an enormous and eventually successful community resistance, rejecting the dominant post-WWII concepts of urban planning “urban renewal” in favor of the “eyes on the street” model of vibrant urban neighborhoods like the Village. Viewing 1950s records of the New York City Planning Commission and comparing them to the critiques brought forth in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), this paper will explore the specific historical and spatial representations of urban space in Rear Window, one of film studies’ most important texts.